The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) closed on an up-to $509,895 grant to the Buchanan County Industrial Development Authority Thursday to implement a cybersecurity pilot program in Buchanan County designed to create jobs in the cybersecurity field. At the same time, the project will serve to mentor students to learn network monitoring skills through an on-the-job training cooperative aimed at assisting small and medium-sized manufacturers.
The Buchanan County IDA will be working with EWI, an engineering and technology organization headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, which develops, tests and implements advanced manufacturing technologies for industry. EWI is partnering with some of America’s leading cybersecurity experts who will staff the cooperative, mentor students, and lead the small and medium-sized manufacturers solution development. Buchanan County will be the first location in the United States to receive the pilot program which is geared towards rural areas.
“The objective of this project is to develop and launch a scalable pilot test for a novel, non-profit, cooperative business model to simultaneously serve small to medium-sized manufacturing companies (SMMs) while developing a pool of talent in rural communities. In addition to helping manufacturers, EWI seeks to help communities achieve their economic development goals, and that’s why we are so excited to be working with Buchanan County,” said Chris Conrardy, EWI’s Chief Technology Officer. The project calls for the co-op to share infrastructure costs across multiple small and medium manufacturing companies to put Department of Defense-level defense strategies in the hands of SMMs. To grow the talent pool necessary to implement the strategy, on-the-job training (OJT) will teach new hires of the co-op how to perform network monitoring, providing rural employment opportunities within the cooperative, while building recognized skills that can lead to other career opportunities. As trainees acquire skills, they may become mentors to others and expand the talent pipeline, according to EWI.
The beginning phase of the pilot program involves the selection of the initial student mentees and small to medium-sized manufacturing companies. Students will go through a ninemonth training period during which they will be paid. The program will utilize distance learning capabilities. The companies selected to take part in the project will be assessed before and after the pilot program to determine the effectiveness of the cybersecurity services. The students’ attainment of cybersecurity skills will be assessed, including job readiness level and accreditation preparedness for the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) credential, and their readiness for the more advanced, SysAdmin, Audit, Network and Security (SANS) certification.
According to EWI, in 2014 there were more than 250,000 firms in the U.S. manufacturing sector, with all but about 3,750 firms considered to be small (i.e., having fewer than 500 employees). In fact, three-quarters of these firms have fewer than 20 employees. In 2014, the Pentagon’s top-100 contractors had obligated contracts worth $177.6 billion. While the largest DoD contractors have their own cybersecurity teams, the many thousands of SMMs within their supply chains are potential early customers for the cooperative.
Small and medium-sized manufacturers make up more than 90 percent of all U.S. manufacturers and constitute the backbone of U.S. supply chains. Large companies rely heavily on their networks of these suppliers, with value added by suppliers accounting for close to 60% of the final purchase price of goods sold.
With the increased connectivity between manufacturers and supply chains, the need to protect critical industrial systems and intellectual property is increasing dramatically, EWI spokesmen noted. At the same time, the cybersecurity threat landscape is in a constant state of flux as new vulnerabilities emerge and attackers adapt to defenses. Some insurers have begun to require adequate cybersecurity defenses to be eligible for insurance. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has begun to impose new cybersecurity requirements on defense suppliers and large companies are beginning to promulgate these requirements throughout their supply chains.
“We look forward to working with Buchanan County and EWI as this project moves forward,” said Jonathan Belcher, VCEDA Executive Directory/General Counsel. “The grant to the Buchanan County IDA will help get the project started and is being provided from regional funds within VCEDA. It is an investment by VCEDA in the future of Buchanan County and our region.”